Ben Platt at the premiere for The People We Hate At the Wedding"

Neo-Nazi Protesters Took to Broadway in a Vile Display of Misinformation Against ‘Parade’

Broadway and theatre in general have traditionally been places of acceptance and learning. We’ve seen stories unfold on stage that would have otherwise never been told. One of those stories is that of Leo Frank, as depicted in the musical Parade. The musical, which has a book by Alfred Uhry and music and lyrics from Jason Robert Brown, is currently in previews for a Broadway revival of the show, which opened originally in 1998 and closed in 1999.

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Led by Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond, the current revival ran briefly Off-Broadway to rave reviews. As someone who hasn’t seen the musical, I was excited to hear of its transfer because I love Jason Robert Brown’s work (The Last Five Years, The Bridges of Madison County, etc.) and I’m interested in learning about Leo Frank’s story since it is something that I wasn’t aware of beforehand. Which is, again, something that theatre does. So it is upsetting on a number of levels that the antisemitism that Frank experienced in his own life is being shoved back into the faces of Broadway audiences as they head into the theater.

During its first preview on Broadway, a group known as the National Socialist Movement took to the streets of NYC to say proudly and incorrectly that Leo Frank was a “pedophile.” This is antisemitism on display in 2023 as Broadway goers are walking into a show about the antisemitism of the early 1900s. It’s horrific, vile, and upsetting to watch.

Who was Leo Frank?

In 1913, Leo Frank was charged and convicted of the rape and murder of his employee at the National Pencil Company—a 13-year-old girl named Mary Phagan. Even at the time, Frank’s conviction was seen as a scapegoating response to public outrage and deeply rooted antisemitism. Georgia’s Governor John M. Slaton took a stand, believing Frank to be innocent, and commuted his sentence from death to life in prison. A mob was made so furious by the decision that they effectively ran Slaton and his wife out of Georgia.

The mob—dubbed the “Knights of Mary Phagan”—kidnapped Frank from prison, took him to Phagan’s hometown, and lynched him. Many of those who participated in the lynching went on to become what was the modern Ku Klux Klan.

It took until the 1980s for Frank to get a pardon. Frank deserved a fair trial and not to be the victim of an antisemitic mob. His story is being told through Parade but this “protest” from the National Socialist Movement is just taking notes from the horrors that Frank actually faced back in 1915.

The creatives speak out.

After the protests at Tuesday’s preview of Parade, the creatives spoke out about what the National Socialist Movement stands for and its dismissal of the messaging of the show and Frank’s case as a whole. In a piece at The Hollywood Reporter, they shared their support for the cast and creatives behind the Parade revival.

“If there is any remaining doubt out there about the urgency of telling this story in this moment in history, the vileness on display last night should put it to rest,” the producers said in a statement on Wednesday. “We stand by the valiant Broadway cast that brings this vital story to life each night.” 

In a video posted to Instagram, Ben Platt (who plays Leo Frank in the show) expressed his disgust for the group of protesters outside. “I got off stage and was looking at social media and naturally, the news of the fact that there were some protesters at our show had spread a lot and that’s kind of the stamp on the evening in terms of the public perception of the evening,” he said the two-minute video, saying that the neo-Nazi protesters “from a really disgusting group” were outside the show “spreading antisemitic rhetoric” about Frank.

“It was definitely very ugly and scary, but a wonderful reminder of why we’re telling this particular story and how special and powerful art, and particularly theater, can be,” he said. “[It] just made me feel extra grateful to be the one that gets to tell this particular story and to carry on this legacy of Leo.”

For Platt’s co-star Micaela Diamond (who plays Frank’s wife Lucille), she took to Instagram to post in her story about the protests. “We learned of this at half hour,” she wrote. “And in the same breath we went on to celebrate our beautiful members making their Broadway debuts. Somehow, our company was able to hold both. Massive celebration and raging disappointment. What a reminder of how important this story is. I can’t wait to tell it again and again. We will speak for you, Leo.”

Parade is currently in previews on Broadway. I already had plans to try and see it since I missed the brief Off-Broadway run but now this has made me even more determined to see Leo’s story. The National Socialist Movement cannot win. Go and see Parade if you can. It is our duty to share Leo Frank’s story and not let it be silenced by a mob once again.

(Featured image: Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.